Heartward Christianity2:20 PM
I was uploading photos on my laptop when she came to me. It was late, around ten-ish, and the children had gone to bed. Only night shadows, orange light and two sisters were up in the living room.
She wanted to talk with me.
Go for it.
There was a girl, she said, that continually made her feel bad.
She being mean to you?
No, she just didn't realize that what she said came across as Pharisaical. She was a sweet girl, a good girl; my sister liked her very much; but she would almost do gymnastics to insert an out-of-place comment about her superb spirituality that made her seem holier-than-thou. Especially when my sister had mentioned she was struggling in a specific area. My sister couldn't measure up to the standard. She didn't pray as much. She didn't fast. She didn't sacrifice this and that. She felt like a spiritual failure.
(And the poor girl expected me to solve this problem.)
To be perfectly honest, I know exactly where she's coming from. I'll get in a certain blog-loop and be overwhelmed by how inadequate I am: I don't pray for my future husband daily; I don't fast for hurting friends; I don't visit the nursing homes twice a week; I don't exchange blogging for hour-a-day prayer marathons; I don't grind my own grain or have the slightest interest in low-fat cooking. And of course, I cannot blame the girls who cook low-cal and are intimidating spiritual warriors. It's not their fault that I feel inadequate. They shouldn't stop their good deeds just because I'm not as spiritually shaped-up, so to speak.
But I feel that as a Christian -- a Christian who greatly desires to please God -- I sometimes focus too much on the sacrifices and outward manifestations of spirituality. Much of what is called "godliness" and "holiness" is a list of rules: do not taste, do not touch, do not look at, do not even acknowledge that such a thing is in existence. And indeed, a holy walk with God does sometimes require the sacrifice, the cutting off. That's the Christian thing to do: Christianity = sacrifice.
I think of the monks and ascetics back in the good old Gnostic days, locking themselves in dank concrete rooms, praying and fasting around the clock, refusing sleep, refusing comfort, sacrificing health and happiness to purify themselves and make themselves acceptable to God. There was a monk who, when emerging from his cell, covered his eyes so that he would not see the beauty of the Swiss Alps.
I think of the goody-two-shoes, Sunday church-goin' spinster who wore only the plainest clothes, ate only the most simple food, supported the starving children of Africa, filled up free time with missionary meetings; and abstained from alcohol, lipstick and card playing. She spent the rest of her cloistered time criticizing fellow church members who fell into the devilish habits she refused to indulge in.
Their sacrifices defined their Christian walk. How many hours you could go without food, how many prayers offered up, how many years one hadn't listened to rock music, were that many leaps closer to Christ.
I support personal convictions. I have several myself that are unpopular and earn me the privilege of being suspiciously regarded as brainwashed and patriarchialized.
But I'm learning that there's another sacrifice, a harder sacrifice, a sacrifice that Paul said only the mature could attain to: a living sacrifice. It's so easy to fast from this or that, for the glory of God. It has the look of spirituality. How easy is it to eat, devoting every bite to the glory of God? It's so easy to refuse to engage in media forms -- music, literature, film -- (and it's even easier to call such pleasures worldly). People acknowledge that you're up to something spiritual by your self-controlled restraint. But how easy is it to use those tools in a way that truly honors the Lord and proclaims His name? It's so easy to sign ourselves up for foreign missionary work -- not so easy to reach others in the ordinariness of life. It's so easy to stay pure from the world locked away in a cloister -- not so easy to stay pure for the Lord rubbing shoulders with common men.
I think we lean toward "cutting off" instead of doing the hard work of discipline, devotion and dedication. For a period of time, it may be good to have list of "do nots" -- personal convictions that guard from sin and keep our hearts on the Lord. Some of us are not able to, say, eat something for the glory of God or do something for the glory of God that someone else may wholeheartedly do. I myself was a very rigid Christian when I first desired to please the Lord -- back six years ago. I do not judge myself for those rigid convictions. I needed them. I followed them sincerely to please the Lord. I was blessed to follow them. But over the years, I have grown more confident in the Lord, and some things that I cut off completely, I feel He is calling me to dedicate solely to His glory. I have changed. Some of the convictions and scruples I minutely followed I do not feel I can do unto the Lord anymore.
And that's my main goal: glorifying, magnifying, adoring Christ in every pore, in every action, in every desire. This isn't a call to throw conviction to the wind: no, I encourage every one of you to stand fast to your convictions against what other people say (or sneer at) and toward the glory of God. This is merely a call to make glorifying God the main point of your convictions, not a false spirituality or an outward show. Nor is this discrediting the outward manifestations of spirituality that some will try to label as legalism. Indeed, it's not about the outward at all: it's a heart thing. It's a God thing. May He be praised.